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Every year, we look forward to it. Every year, it stresses me out. Christmas.   

Automatically, the name of one of the most beloved holidays of the year elicits visions of white powdery snow and horse-drawn sleighs, rosy-cheeked carolers, vibrant festive sweaters, eggnog, and fruitcake, and of course, a brightly lit evergreen with lots of gloriously packaged presents underneath.   

Over the years, and through generation after generation, there have been a ton of changes. Traditions added, traditions lost. It remains the same yet has evolved. And to me, it has become stressful and complicated.  When did that happen? Am I to blame? 

Somehow, the need for money and presents has become overwhelming.  

I just want to buy my kids nice things for Christmas. That’s what I say, that’s what I think. But really, I just want my kids to be happy. Is that really what it takes?   

My memories of Christmas, and I’m sure everyone has their own experiences and subsequently their own perspectives, but my own, are treasured times with my family that I will always be grateful for. Yes, I had presents. Lots and lots of presents. Or it seemed so to me.  

I don’t remember ever being disappointed at Christmas. Maybe a couple of weeks later, after returning to school and hearing about some of the things the other kids had gotten. Still, it wasn’t exactly disappointment I felt but rather envy over what they had.  

To be perfectly honest, at times, I was quite green with it. But I suspect no matter what I had, I probably would have still thought someone else had something better. Sometimes, that’s just a child’s perspective. 

My family wasn’t well off, to be literal, we were poor. On welfare. My dad ended up disabled, not able to work. Yet, not able to draw any kind of disability. No kind of insurance or retirement plan to help him out. He just hadn’t thought about those kinds of things before. My mom was a homemaker. All she’d ever wanted was to be a good mom and wife.  

She tried desperately to bring herself out of the house, to work, to provide for us all, and put food on the table.  

And eventually, she did. But it was hard, and it didn’t happen overnight.  

It was a struggle and to be honest, now looking back, I have no idea how they did it. Feeding, clothing, and taking care of six kids. Monumentous.   

And still managed Christmas, every year. 

For myself, I had no idea of the struggles. I didn’t even know we were poor. As I got older, the differences in what I and my family had, compared to what other people had, became clearer, but for most of my childhood, I was oblivious.   

Perhaps another part of why Christmas has always been such a wonderful time for me is because a home with my family was always, well, home.  

There’s always been a certain amount of comfort at home. No matter what, you were always loved, always accepted. The one place you could be yourself with no worries about ridicule or anyone making fun. Well, that’s not exactly true, but jokes poked from your brothers or sisters are just superficial fodder that is meant to be and will be, returned at them at a later time, or even immediately, depending on the situation. I can always relax at home.  It just settles you, settles in you, deep in your bones, like warmth and contentment.   

I’ve always wanted home to be the same for my children. A stable place where they knew they always were welcome, always loved. No matter where life led them, no matter what, they could always come home.  

I hope I’ve succeeded. I take comfort in the knowledge that my grown children still come home. Of their own free will. Without me begging for visits. They come home. 

And they enjoy Christmas. They love it even. Look forward to it all year.  But I… stress. I’m afraid of disappointing them. I’m afraid of that more and more. As they’ve grown, the things they want have become more expensive. Not their fault. The variety of games, gadgets, and miscellaneous items have become mind-bogglingly expansive. And the cooler the item, naturally, the more it costs. Unfortunately, I am not well off. Although blessedly and mostly thanks to my husband and father of my children, we are certainly much better than my own family was during my youth.   

Nonetheless, I am not able to randomly buy my children any and every little thing they want during the year. As a matter of fact, I more often must tell them ‘no’ and ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the extra money for that right now’, than I ever say ‘yes’.  

That being the case, I really like to kind of make it up to them at Christmas time. So, I have them make a list of things they really want.  And I do my very best to fulfill it.   

I don’t want them to want. I don’t want them to be envious. I don’t want them to know that terrible feeling in your gut when you want something so bad it hurts. I don’t want them to ever feel ashamed to be my children.  Mostly, I don’t want them to be disappointed.   

That’s the stress. Right there. I guess perhaps it really is my own fault.  Why did I ever make Christmas so complicated? Why couldn’t I have made the day about more important things than gifts?  

Possibly, the reasoning could lay in my own fond memories of getting out of bed (not necessarily waking up because I’d actually never went to sleep and had instead lain awake all night staring at the ceiling and listening intently for jingling bells and hoofbeats on the roof) and slipping into the living room to peek at the tree.  

It was always such an awesome, amazing sight to me.  It would literally seem brighter, more beautiful at that time, the very brink of Christmas morning. The presents like small mountains of treasures under the tree.  

Afterward, I’d sneak back to bed to wait on the sunrise, content then after seeing a sneak peek of what was coming.  

Only then could I finally shut my eyes and rest. Happy.   

Was it bad to want that for my own children? That happiness? That thrill? 

I managed to deliver it for a while. It was easier when Barbie dolls and remote-control trucks were what they wanted. Now, however, I’ve begun to feel a little less successful. A little less sure. And so, I stress.  Surprisingly today my eyes were opened to new knowledge. Or rather, a new recognition of an old truth. And my own children brought about this awareness.   

We sit in the living room. The tree is up. An abysmal amount of presents sit underneath. And I’m constantly going over gift ideas, prioritizing their lists.  

What can I get? What can’t I afford?  

Christmas is literally a week and a half away. I’ve already been in contact with a few different holiday loan places, but with no luck.  

Things just haven’t been great this year. After all, this is 2020. The year Covid has taken so much from all of us, the year the country practically shut down, the year of layoffs and uncertainty. It’s put a strain on everyone. And though things are looking a bit brighter for the future, right now, right here, it’s still hard.   

And I’m just thinking away. So, randomly, I ask my children a question.  What I’m really trying to figure out is whether I should try to get them all one big/expensive gift and a couple small, a.k.a. cheaper ones, or if I should get them a whole lot of the smaller gifts. Though, honestly, at this point, I’m not quite certain what I’m even going to be able to get at all.  

The question is: “What do you guys enjoy most about Christmas?” 

“The games we play.” “The Christmas candy we make.” “Watching Christmas movies!” “Mostly all the good food.”    

I was surprised. These were not the answers I expected. What about all the presents? So, I asked, “What about all the presents?”   

Scrunched up noses caught me off guard. “Well, yeah they are cool but it’s not what’s fun,” was one answer.   

“What if you don’t get the things on your list?” 

One unconcerned shoulder shrug. “It’d be alright.” “All I care about is cookies.” Dead-panned honesty from my 15-year-old daughter. “That’s not what’s important, Mom.” “Christmas isn’t about presents, Mom.” 

As though I, the mother, needed reminding. Well damn, I guess, maybe I did.   

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